Westminster Theological Journal 46 (1984) 298-316

        Copyright © 1984 by Westminster Theological Seminary, cited with permission.   






                                        B. LYNNE NEWELL



ALTHOUGH differing in their views about a number of issues

with regard to the Book of Job, m general scholars have

agreed that Job's replies to Yahweh in 40:4-5 and 42:2-6 indicate

that Job repented,l or at least relented and changed his attitude.

Even scholars such as K. Fullerton, C. G. Jung, and D. A. Robert-

son, who reject the possibility that Job could have repented, never.

theless agree that 42:2-6 in particular indicates that he did.

K. Fullerton maintains that 42:2-6 is absolutely opposed to the

content of the dialogues and could not have been written by the

author of that section, hence he rejects the whole of 40:6-42:17

as a gloss.2 C. G. Jung and D. A. Robertson see Job's replies as

hypocritical. C. G. Jung says that most probably Job prostrated

himself before God as if he were a defeated antagonist, realizing

that God was a being who could not be judged morally.3 D. A.

Robertson says it. is .only a "tongue-in-cheek" confession, made

to calm God's whirlwinds.4

          A few scholars do not believe that Job is expressing remorse or

regret m any sense m his final reply. For example, M. Tsevat says

that Job only acknowledges in 42:2-6 that he now knows, from

the content of God's speeches, that justice is not an integral part

of the universe and that one cannot, and should not, expect any-

thing for one's behavior. Freed from that misconception, Job is

then prepared to live a truly pious and moral life with no such


                1 Of what Job repented is debated. Most scholars favor the view that he

repented of his words and/or attitude towards God during the dialogue with

his friends.

                2 K. Fullerton, "The Original Conclusion to the Book of Job," ZAW 42

(1924) 116-36, esp. pp. 125-28.

                3 C. G. Jung, Answer to Job (New York: Pastoral Psychology Book Club,

1955) 31.

                4 David A. Robertson, "The Book of Job: A Literary Study," Soundings

56 (1973) 466.




false hopes or claims.5 Dale Patrick translates 42:6, "Therefore

I repudiate and repent of dust and ashes," and interprets vv 2-6

as Job declaring that, because of the wonder of God's ways, he

will change his speech from lament and accusation of God to praise

and rejoicing.6 Although not seeing Job as repentant in the usual

sense, these views nevertheless agree that Job changed his atti-

tude, speech, and behavior, and that he worshipped God.

In 1979 J. B. Curtis presented a radically different translation

and interpretation of Job's responses.7 He argued that Job did not

repent, but totally and unequivocally rejected Yahweh. This repre-

sents a complete reversal of the traditional interpretation. He para-

phrases 40:4 as follows:

            Although I dealt with matters that to you are trivial when I spoke earlier,

            I will now with contemptuous revulsion cease speaking altogether.

He sees Job here sarcastically expressing his hostility by saying

it is useless to try and talk to a god who is so concerned with great

things that he is not even aware of the existence of such small

problems as the suffering of the innocent. He views 42:3a and

4 as Job "daring to hurl back in God's teeth his own words," and

"sarcastically attacking the god who thinks that his might answers

all questions."8 J. B. Curtis adds that 42:4-5 indicate that God

had wanted to question Job, and he did, but about irrelevancies.

The experience of seeing God had confirmed the reports Job had

heard about God and had proved his injustice. So, according to

J. B. Curtis's translation of 42:6, Job, "totally disenchanted with

this god," said:

          Therefore I feel loathing contempt and revulsion

                   (toward you, O God);

          and I am sorry for frail man.

Job thus totally and finally rejects this unjust, unfeeling, and

irrelevant deity.9


            5 M. Tsevat, "The Meaning of the Book of Job," HUCA 37 (1966) 73-

106, esp. pp. 92, 104.

            6 Dale Patrick, "Job’s Address of God," ZAW 91 (1979) 268-82, esp. p.


            7 John B. Curtis, "On Job's Response to Yahweh," JBL 98 (1979) 497-


            8 Ibid., 509.

            9 Ibid., 510.





The variety of opinions about Job's response to Yahweh and

especially the radically different translation and interpretation by

J. B. Curtis demand that we reexamine and reevaluate this portion

of the text of Job. That is the purpose of this article.

To understand the meaning of Job's responses, we need to con-

sider them within their context. So, before focusing on the Hebrew

text of Job's replies, we shall first consider relevant factors from

the literary context of the Book of Job (ancient Near Eastern

parallel literature), and then the immediate context (the meaning

and intent of the Yahweh speeches to which Job responded).10


I. Ancient Near Eastern Literary Parallels


The date of composition of the Book of Job is much debated,

nevertheless its setting is generally considered to be in the second

millennium B.C. Archaeology has provided from that era several

other wisdom texts that consider the issue of human suffering.

These texts are commonly referred to by scholars as the "innocent

sufferer" texts and are often considered to be a subgenre within

the Wisdom Literature.

Although these "innocent sufferer" texts originated in Meso-

potamia, they, as with other Mesopotamian literature, were prob-

ably known throughout the Near Eastern area. The findings of

archaeology have demonstrated that economic and cultural ex-

change took place. In the field of literature, a fragment of the

Mesopotamian Gilgamesh Epic from about the thirteenth century

B.C. has been found at Megiddo in Palestine.11  Mesopotamian wis-

dom texts have also been found at Ugarit. Among them is one

Nougayrol has called "Juste Souffrant" because it presents an

innocent man struggling with the problem of his experience of

suffering. The suggested date for this text is ca. 1300 B.C.12 Simi-

larities of literary format, poetic style, and certain theological


10 A fuller discussion of these factors and related issues can be seen in my

Th.M. thesis, "Job, Repentant or Rebellious ?" (Westminster Theological

Seminary, 1983).

11 John Gray, "The Book of Job in the Context of Near Eastern Liter-

ature," ZAW 82 (1970) 251-69, esp. p. 262. A. Goetze and S. Levy, “A

Fragment of the Gilgamesh Epic from Megiddo," Atiqot 2 (1959) 121-28.

12J. Nougayrol, Ugantica 5 (1968) 265-73. Gray, "Job in the Context

of Near Eastern Literature," 262.




concepts (e.g., divine retribution according to man's behavior) as

well as of theme, indicate that these texts may constitute part of

the literary context of the Book of Job. So, we shall examine these

texts to see what attitudes they present as acceptable in a sufferer.

If these documents do not allow for attitudes of revulsion and re-

jection of the deity as their conclusion, then it is less likely that

Job responded thus to Yahweh.13 That would lessen the likelihood

that J. B. Curtis's interpretation is correct. Conversely, if re-

pentance and submission are found consistently in the sufferers,

more likely Job's attitude would be similar and the historical

conventional interpretation correct.

The oldest extant text which deals theologically with the prob-

lem of human suffering is from Sumer. Its title is "Man and His

God"14 and it is often referred to as "The Sumerian Job." The

"hero" is a righteous man who nevertheless is stricken with severe

sickness and bitter suffering. He describes his suffering, then la-

ments over it. He concludes with three pleas for deliverance alter-

nating with two confessions of sin. The first is just a general

confession of his sinfulness as a human being, but the second is a

confession of the sins his god made known to him. His lament

and repentance are accepted by the god who then restores his

health and prosperity. The Sumerian "Letter to Enki" shows this

same pattern--the need for confession of sin and repentance so

that the god would end the man's sufferings and restore his happi-


Three Babylonian texts, AO 4462, "Ludlul bel nemeqi" ("I

I will praise the Lord of Wisdom," often called "The Babylonian

( Job") and "The Babylonian Theodicy," resemble the Book of Job

thematically.16 The attitude considered to be correct for a sufferer


13 See Chapter Two, "The Validity, Procedure and Benefit of a Com-

parative Approach to Akkadian Autobiography," in Tremper Longman III,

"Fictional Akkadian Royal Autobiography: A Generic and Comparative

Approach" (Ph.D. dissertation, Yale University, 1983).

14 S. N. Kramer, "Man and His God: A Sumerian Variation on the 'Job'

Motif," in Wisdom in Israel and in the Ancient Near East (ed. M. Noth and

D. W. Thomas; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1955) 170-82; ANET, 589-91.

15 William W. Hallo, "Individual Prayer in Sumerian: The Continuity of

a Tradition," JAOS 88 (1968) 82-88; Thorkild Jacobsen, The Treasures of

Darkness: A History of Mesopotamian Religion (New Haven & London:

(Yale University Press, 1976) 153-54.

16 J. Nougayrol, "Une version ancienne du 'Juste souffrant,'" RB 59



is clear from these texts. He should examine himself to see if he

had committed any errors, and if he had he should repent of

them. Whether or not his own sin was the cause of his suffering,

he should accept the suffering and not complain, rebel, or blas-

pheme his god. He should continue to serve his god faithfully and

seek his god's compassion. The Akkadian "Righteous Sufferer"

text found at Ugarit demonstrates the same concept of the correct

attitude in a sufferer.

If we accept the consensus of scholarly opinion which holds that

the Book of Job is also one of the "innocent sufferer" texts, then

we expect to find this same attitude from Job. After the theophany,

Job's wrong attitude would change, and he would praise and wor-

ship God once more. He would no longer complain, nor would he

rebel against God and reject him. Conversely, he would repent of

any sin God showed him. This, I maintain, is what did occur.

The general interest in "the fear of the Lord" found in Wisdom

Literature introduces another factor relevant to Job's response to

Yahweh. At the beginning of the Book of Job, Job was a man

who feared the Lord and shunned evil. The book's genre as

Wisdom Literature requires that Job repent and return to fearing

the Lord when at the end of his suffering Yahweh charged him

with wrongdoing. He would not rebel.


II. Immediate Context

Understanding and interpreting Job's responses in the light of

their immediate context Involves taking account of the specific,

content and purpose of Yahweh's speeches to which he was re-

sponding. To understand the purpose, and hence the meaning, of

the Yahweh speeches, we must see them, too, in context. They are

addressing specific statements, questions and attitudes of Job in

the preceding dialogues.

Actually, Job's speeches in the dialogues exhibit a mixture of

features, e.g., questioning, agony, faith, hopelessness, perplexity,

and confidence. He argues with his friends, defending himself

against their accusations and maintaining his righteousness. He

(1952) 239-50; ANET 434-37, 596-600, 438-40, 601-4; W. G. Lambert,

Babylonian Wisdom Literature (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960) 21-62, 63-




addresses God, and speaks about him, as he wrestles to reconcile

his theology and past experience of God with his present experi-

ence of suffering and the wickedness he sees about him. Job be-

lieved God was the sovereign Lord, and he recognized no second

causes.17 So, as he wrestled to reconcile this with his loss and

suffering, he concluded that God had changed from being his friend

(29:2-4) who cared for him to his enemy who persecuted and

maltreated him (10:8-12; 13:24-27; 30:21).

Throughout the dialogue, as he wrestled to reconcile his the-

ology with his experience and to refute the accusations of his

friends, Job accused God of a number of things. He said God

r oppressed him while he smiled on the schemes of the wicked

(10:3), attacked him in anger and shattered him (16:9,12),

wronged him and counted him an enemy (19: 6-11 ), denied him

justice (27:1) and maltreated him ruthlessly (30:19-21).

Although he may not have been conscious of the full implica-

tions of what he was saying, Job was actually passing judgment

upon God by thus accusing him. Job also passed judgment on

God for not fulfilling his duties as a ruler when he allowed the

widow, the orphan, the poor, and the needy to be oppressed by

the wicked and did not intervene on their behalf (24:1-12). In

thus judging God, Job was in fact exalting himself above God and

implying that he would be a better ruler.

However, we need to remember that these things were said

within the context of Job's wrestling to reconcile his beliefs about

God with the reality he was experiencing and witnessing. Along-

side the above statements we find others that reveal Job's con-

tinued faith in God and in his righteousness and justice (e.g.,

12:13; 13:15; 14:15-17; 17:3; 19:25; 23:6,7, 10-12). In all

that he said, Job does not appear to be spurning God but rather

Job is seeking God and his answers.

In Yahweh's speeches18 every pericope except one begins with


17 1:21; 2:10. He knew the Sabeans and Chaldeans had robbed him

(1: 15,17) but he did not mention them. Cf. 9:24, "If it is not he, then who

is it ?"

18 Some scholars reject the ostrich pericope (39:13-18) and the behemoth

and leviathan sections (40:15-41:34) as later additions. However, I do not

find the reasons they give convincing. See my thesis, "Job, Repentant or

Rebellious ?" chap. 6. See also E. Dhorme, A Commentary on the Book of

Job (London: Nelson, 1967) xcii-xcv; Robert Gordis, The Book of God and

Man: A Study of Job (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965) 122-23,



a question. That one, the behemoth pericope, closes with a ques-

tion. The use of questions is a very effective teaching method.

They involve the "learner" by calling forth from him a personal

response. So, Yahweh's use of them may indicate that his speeches

were not designed to be merely a display of his power and au-

thority, but also for a relationship purpose. They were designed

to teach Job about God and about himself, and to draw forth

a response.

In his speeches Yahweh brought three accusations against Job,

all of them relating to Job's words and attitudes in the dialogue

with his friends. In his first speech Yahweh charged Job with

using words without knowledge (38:2), contending with God and

accusing him of wrongdoing. Job had done all of this, thus, as it

were, putting himself on at least equal footing with God. Yahweh

dealt with Job's sin here by asking him a series of questions

centered around his work of creating and sustaining the universe

and some of the animals that inhabit it. Yahweh asked Job re-

peatedly what his part was in this work, both past and present,

and whether he had the knowledge, power, and authority to per-

form it. Each question was so framed that Job could only answer

that he did not possess those qualities, only God did.

As well as thus emphasizing that he is infinite in wisdom, power,

and authority, God also spoke to Job of his care of and concern

for his creation, both animate and inanimate. He sends rain on

the dry land, provides food for lions and ravens, and cares for

other animals. All of creation is shown to be in the control and

care of God. At that point, Yahweh challenged Job with "Let him

who accuses God answer him" (40:2), and Job makes his first

response (40:3-5).

In his second speech Yahweh focuses on his third charge against

Job: "Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me

to justify yourself?" (40:7). Job was guilty of this too, so that,

though he may have been unconscious of the implication, it was

as if he were a rival god.

So, Yahweh challenges Job to take over the administration of

justice on earth in his stead, if he can (40:9-14). It is clear he


and The Book of Job (Moreshet Series 2; New York: The Jewish Theo-

logical Seminary of America, 1978) 557-59, 566-68; Francis I. Anderson,

Job: an Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale OT Commentaries; Down-

ers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1976) 49, 53.



cannot. Yahweh then confronts Job with behemoth and leviathan,

creatures and/or chaos forces before whom Job as man was help-

less and over whom he had no control. Once again Yahweh re-

vealed Job's weakness and inadequacy and at the same time

showed his, Yahweh's, power, authority, and control, not only over

the natural creation but also over chaos forces and evil.

Yahweh stated explicitly that no man had a claim against him

that he must pay (41:11 ). Yet God had come to Job and spoken

to him, to teach, rebuke, correct, and enlighten him. All of this,

from God's own initiative, was not because of some "claim" but

of grace. To this God, Job responded.


III. Job's Responses


Now we shall consider the text of Job's responses in 40:4-5 and

42:2-6 to establish a translation and an interpretation of them.

We shall, of course, establish word-meanings that are in line with

the meanings of those words in other parts of the OT, and inter-

preting Job's replies in the context described above.

As we examine the text of Job's responses, we find that the

LXX and the Qumran targum of Job (11QtgJob) differ from the

MT in some verses. However, the nature of the LXX translation

of Job causes most careful scholars to agree that great caution

is needed in the use of it for textual criticism.19 Certainly with

regard to the text of Job's responses the weight of evidence is

not in favor of the variant translations found in the LXX.

11QtgJob is, on the whole, a sober, literal translation, sup-

portive of the MT.20 However, some divergences from the MT


19 Dhorme, Job, cxcvi-ccvi; Henry S. Gehman, "The Theological Approach

of the Greek Translator of Job 1-15," JBL 68 (1949) 231-40; Donald

H. Gard, The Exegetical Method of the Greek Translator of the Book of

Jcb (JBL Monograph Series 8; Philadelphia: SBL, 1952); Donald H. Gard,

"The Concept of Job's Character According to the Greek Translator of the

Hebrew Text," J BL 72 ( 1953) 182-86; Gillis Gerleman, "Studies in the

Septuagint, I: The Book of Job" (Lunds Universitets Arsskrift, n.s. 1/43/2;

Lund: Gleerup, 1947); Harry M. Orlinsky, review of The Exegetical Method

of the Greek Translator of the Book of Job, by Donald H. Gard, in JBL 73

(1954) 251-52.

20 Joseph A. Fitzmyer, A Wandering Aramean: Collected Aramaic Essays

(Missoula: Scholars Press, 1979) 161-81. G. W. Parsons, "A Biblical The-

ology of Job 38:1-42:6" (Th.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary,

1980) 313-15.



are found in Job's response in 42:1-6. The most significant of

these is the replacing of 42:3 by 40:5. We cannot consider this as

proof, though, that originally Job made only one response to

Yahweh. Although in the targum 40:4-5 is illegible, in 40:6

Yahweh answers Job, thus indicating clearly that Job must have

spoken in at least v 5.21 Also, Job's expressed intention in 40:5

to say no more seems to better fit the interpretation that his first

response ends there rather than continuing for a number of verses


For the translation of 42:6, 11 QtgJob has "Therefore I am

poured out and boiled up (or dissolved), and I am become dust

and ashes," a translation differing from both the LXX and the

MT. The translator has taken different roots for both of the verbs

--mss instead of m's, and hmm (Nifal) instead of nhm.22 Whereas

divergences from the MT are not common in this targum, the

accumulation of divergences in these verses witnesses to the diffi-

culty the translator was having here. His obvious difficulty and

his choice of roots that would not yield the words in the MT with-

out some emendation decrease the value of his translation for de-

termining the meaning of the MT in these verses.


1. Job's First Response, 40:4-5


hen qalloti mahasibeka yadi samti lemo pi

'ahat dibbarti welo' '’e’eneh ustayim welo' 'osip


The translation I suggest for these verses is:


Indeed, I am worthless (of no account), What (How) shall I answer

you? I put my hand to (over) my mouth,

I have spoken once, but I shall not reply (again)

even twice, but I shall not add more (I shall not continue).


Scholars agree that the relevant basic meaning of the root qll is

"to be light, to be small, to be of little account."23 M. Tsevat

draws our attention to the fact that the root qll is antonymous


21 J. P. M, van der Ploeg, O. p" and A, S, van der Woude, Le Targum

de Job de la Grotto XI de Qumran (Leiden: E. J, Brill, 1971), M. Sokoloff,

The Targum to Job from Qumran Cave XI (Ramat-Gan: Bar-Ilan Uni-

versity, 1914).

22 Sokoloff, "Targum to Job," 100, 101, 167.

23 BDB, 886. W. L. Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon r

of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978) 319.



to kbd.24 Used of a person, the noun klib6d can mean "weighti-

ness, splendor, distinction, honor ."25 Job had spoken of his kabod

in 29:20 (also 19:9). In 31:37 Job had said he would approach

God like a "prince," and a prince would be a man of kabod. But

after Yahweh's first speech, which brought Job to realize his fini-

tude and his lack of knowledge, power, and authority, Job re-

sponded that he was the opposite of kabod, i.e., he was without

intrinsic honor and worth.26 The LXX has outhen on, "(I) being

nothing," which is the same basic idea.

Two scholars give different translations for hen qalloti. E.

Dhorme translates, "If I have been thoughtless," although he too

states that the basic meaning is "to be light." He chooses that

translation to suit the interpretation he gives for the meaning of

Job's responses, i.e., he has spoken out of ignorance.27 His trans-

lation does not really convey the meaning of the Hebrew word.

J. B. Curtis translates v 4a as "Although I was too light in

what I answered you." He considers that "this is bitter sarcasm,

slashing out against a god who is irrelevant."28 His argument for

translating hen as "although" cannot be sustained.29 Also, the

Hebrew here does not require the translation he gives. He states

that v 4a should be rendered in this way so that it is in keeping

with the meaning he proposes for 42:6. He then suggests as a

paraphrase for v 4a, "although I dealt with matters that to you

are trivial when I spoke earlier."30 This paraphrase moves further

toward subjective interpretation.

The expression "to put the hand to the mouth" is found six

times in the OT. There is some variation in the Hebrew expressing

this phrase, but the variations are not significant. In Judg 18:19

the expression follows immediately after a command to be quiet,

and is really a repetition of that command. It appears to add

emphasis. The writer of Prov 30:32 says "hand to mouth"--a


24 Tsevat, "The Meaning of the Book of Job," 91. See also V. Kubina,

Die Gottesreden im Buche Hiob (Freiburg: Herder, 1979) 78.

25 Holladay, Lexicon, 151.

26 Kubina, Die Gottesreden im Buche Hiob, 78.

27 Dhorme, Job, lix, 615, 646-47.

28 Curtis, "Job's Response," 507.

29 See the Appendix on "The Particle hen" in my Th.M. thesis, "Job,

Repentant or Rebellious?"

30 Curtis, “Job's Response," 507.



verb is not used. Again it is a command, apparently emphatic,

to be silent.

In Job 21:5, having asked his friends to listen carefully to his

words, Job then says, "look at me and be astonished, and put

your hand over your mouth." Here too the expression indicates

that they should be silent, probably because of feeling astonish-

ment and horror. When describing the respect paid to him in his

presuffering days, Job says that "the chief men refrained from

speaking and covered their mouths with their hands" (29:9).

Again the expression means that they were silent but this time

because of a feeling of deep respect. Mic 7:16 describes how, as

a result of seeing the Lord's wonders, nations will be ashamed,

lose their power, "lay their hands on their mouths and their ears

will become deaf," and then (v 17) they go on to fear the Lord.

Once more this expression indicates that the nations become silent,

apparently because of feelings of shame and awe, and possibly as

a sign of submission.

Two ancient reliefs contain scenes which portray the placing of

the hand to or upon the mouth as a sign of respect and in one of ,

them possibly amazement. One of those reliefs shows a man being

carried skyward on a lion-headed eagle. To our left of that eagle

is a man with his hand up towards his mouth. This gesture could

be because of amazement or because of respect.31 In the other

relief, King Danus is seated on his throne with Crown Prince

Xerxes, attendants and guards standing behind him. In front of :

King Darius is .a Median dignitary who is bowing slightly from

the waist and with a hand upon his mouth.32 Clearly this posture

shows respect and homage.

In summary, the five biblical uses examined above all indicate

that a person putting the hand to the mouth signifies silence. With

the usages in Judg 18:19 and Prov 30:32, no emotional involve-

ment is evident, though they may be considered emphatic. In the

other three usages, the person is silent because of a feeling of

astonishment, shame or awe, or as an indication of deep respect

or even submission. The association of this gesture with respect

and homage, and possibly with amazement, is confirmed by the

reliefs described above.


31 ANEP, #695, pp. 222, 333.

32 ANEP, #463, pp. 159, 303.



So, as we consider Job's use of that expression in 40:4, we

expect it to mean that Job is saying he will be silent. This cer-

tainly fits the immediate context as Job emphasizes in v 5 that

he is not going to speak. Also the question "what (how) shall I

answer you?" indicates that Job is not going to speak. Job uses

this expression in responding to Yahweh's first speech. It follows

Job's acknowledgement that he is "worthless, of little account."

So, to say that with this gesture Job was conveying his feeling

of unworthiness, shame, awe, reverence, and even submission to

Yahweh, accords well with both the context and other usages of

the gesture.

J. B. Curtis gives a different interpretation of this expression.

He agrees that its basic meaning is "to become silent" but says

this meaning is usually "overlaid with strongly emotional over-

tones." Although he mentions the feelings of awe, profound re-

spect, and remorse as the emotions seen in other biblical uses of

the expression, yet apparently he feels free to suggest any feeling

as long as it is a strong emotion. He says that the emotion Job

feels here would be that of "profound revulsion." So, he para-

phrases v 4b as "I will now with contemptuous revulsion cease

speaking altogether."33 By interpreting the gesture in this way,

J. B. Curtis has introduced an emotion which is the opposite of

feelings associated with the expression in all other places extant.

To do thus is to contravene sound exegetical procedure.

Scholars agree about the basic meaning of 40:5, although they

differ about the interpretation of it as part of Job's response. Some

scholars would emend 'e'eneh to 'esneh which means "I shall re-

peat it." However this emendation is unnecessary. The idea of

repetition is frequently left unexpressed in Hebrew. For example,

in both Ps 51:20 and Isa 9:9 bnh only is used to mean "build

again." In the same way, 'e'eneh in the MT can mean "respond


The use of ascending numeration, such as “. . . once. . .

twice. . ." in v 5, is common in biblical and Semitic poetry. It

is particularly a feature of Wisdom literature. It may simply mean

"several" as it does here. See, e.g., Amos 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13; Eccl

11: 2.35


33 Curtis, "Job's Response," 507.

34 Gordis, Job, 466.

35 Ibid., 58.



How do we interpret this first response of Job's? First, Yahweh's

speech to which Job was responding was designed to teach him his

lack of knowledge, power, and authority--i.e., his finitude--and

at the same time remind Job of God's omniscience, omnipotence,

and benevolence. This purpose was accomplished and Job re-

sponded, "indeed, I am worthless [of no account]." As Job was

confronted by his Creator, he recognized once more, and in fuller

measure (as seen from his second response), his "creatureliness."

Secondly, Yahweh accused Job of speaking "words without

knowledge" and of "accusing God." Job responded to this accusa-

tion by what he said in vv 4b and 5. I would suggest that by

putting his hand over his mouth he was acknowledging the truth

of God's accusation and expressing shame for this. In v 5, also,

Job was acknowledging that he had indeed spoken as God charged,

but he would not do so again. Job repeatedly expressed the desire

to come before God so that God should present his charges against

him, and Job was sure he would be able to answer those charges.

Then God would declare him not guilty. Now God has confronted

Job, he has presented charges (though not those Job expected),

and Job has no answer. He is guilty of these charges, and he thus

acknowledges it.


2. Job's Second Response, 42:2-6


Most scholars now recognize that vv 3a and 4 are virtual quo-

tations of Yahweh's challenges to Job in 38:2-3 and 40:7.36 How-

ever, some regard them as misplaced variants.37 I concur that they

are Job's words quoting God's challenges m order to respond to


In the Kethib of the first word in 42:2, we find a defective

spelling of the first person singular form of the verb. The yod is

missing from the end of the word. The Qere gives the full spelling.

The text itself clearly requires the verb to be in the first person

and not the third. Also, both the LXX and 11QtgJob translate it


36 Robert Gordis, "Virtual Quotations in Job, Sumer and Qumran," VT

31 (1981) 413; Anderson, Job, 291-92.

37 Dhorme, Job, 645-46; H. H. Rowley, The Book of Job (The New

Century Bible Commentary; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980) 265; Marvin

H. Pope, Job: a New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB

15; 3d ed. Garden City: Doubleday, 1973) 348.



"I know." The same type of defective spelling is found in other

verses, e.g., Ps 16:2; 140:13; Ezek 16:59. So, we do not hesitate

to accept the Qere form.

The translation of 42:2-5 presents no problem. Verse 6, how-

ever, contains three problems which we shall examine in some

detail. I suggest the following translation for 42:2-5.


I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose38 of yours can

be thwarted.

"Who is this obscuring counsel without knowledge ?"

"Indeed I have spoken, but I did not understand, of things too wonderful

for me (which) I did not know.

"Listen, now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you answer

inform me!"

(By hearsay) my ears had heard of you, and now my eyes have seen you.


These verses indicate that Job now reaffirms his belief in God's

omnipotence and sovereignty. In Yahweh's second speech, Job was

confronted with situations he could not handle. God, however,

could handle them. As a result of both speeches Job acknowledges

that, as Yahweh said, he has spoken from ignorance and lack of

understanding. God revealed to Job something of his ways and

purposes in creation, in the functioning of the natural elements

that he controlled, and in his care of the animals. Job had not

understood these--they were too wonderful and difficult for him.

As a result of Yahweh's second speech Job realized that he did

not understand God's mercy in judgment. He had not compre-

hended the exaltedness and might of God the Creator. And he

did not understand God's restraint of chaos powers. He confesses

here that he had indeed spoken from ignorance and lack of un-


God came and spoke directly to Job. God began each of his

speeches, "I will question you, and you answer me!" God did

question Job. Job summarizes his answer in vv 5 and 6. Formerly,

Job knew of God only by hearsay. Yet he believed in God and

lived for him, fearing, worshipping, and trusting him. Now Job

has had a personal, direct encounter with God. God has revealed

himself to Job. What Job's physical eyes saw we do not know-

that was not important. Undoubtedly the storm from which God

spoke gave some physical impression of God's presence. But Job's


38 Mezimmah is used for God's purpose in Jer 23:20; 30:24 and 51:11.



increased knowledge of God from what God said to him and the

awareness of the immediacy of the divine presence as God spoke

were such that Job said "now my eyes have seen you." Verse 6

begins with "therefore" and hence is a result of Job's "seeing .


al ken 'em'as wenihamti ‘al 'apar wa'eper:


Before I propose a translation for this verse, it is necessary to

investigate the usage and probable meaning of the verbs m's and

nhm, the object of m's, and the significance of the phrase as-

sociated with "dust and ashes."

(1) m's. In Holladay's Lexicon (p. 180) the meaning is given

as "refuse, reject." In BDB (p. 549) the meanings "refuse, re-

ject" are given and also the meaning "despise." An examination

of seventy-three usages of this word in the OT shows that in the

vast majority of cases its meaning is "reject." In twelve verses

the meaning "despise" is preferable.39 In a number of places an

element of both meanings seemed to be involved, though one or

the other is prominent. In the verses where it means "reject" the

"rejection" is due to a variety of causes.

J. B. Curtis mentions fourteen verses in which he says m's is

used with great emotional depth.40 He says nothing about the

other fifty-nine verses. On the basis of the few verses he mentions,

and the emotion he see in them, he concludes that m's "has a

fundamental meaning like 'to feel loathing contempt and revul-

sion.'"41 However, his argument cannot be sustained. In a number

of the verses he mentions the word simply means "reject" (e.g.,

Ps 15:4; 36:5; 118:2; Isa 7:15-16; 33:15). Other connotations

he mentions are only his subjective speculation, e.g., that in Judg .

9:38 and Jer 4:30m's connotes malicious hatred with intend to

kill."42 In any case, one cannot take an emotion that may ac-

company an action and substitute it for the action itself. They are


39 Judg 9:38; Job 9:21; 19:18; Ps 53:6(5); 106:24; Prov 3:11; 15:32;

Isa 33:8; Ezek 21: 15(10), 18(13); Amos 5:21; and possibly. Jer. 4:30. The "

meaning of m's in Job 7:16,36:5 and 42:6 is discussed later in this chapter.

40 Jer 14:19; Lev 26:43-44; Lam 3:45; Judg 9:38; Jer 4:30; Job 30:1;

Ps 15:4; 118:22; Isa 7:15-16; 33:15; Ps 36:5; 89:39. See Curtis, "Job's,

Response," 503.

41 Curtis, "Job's Response," 503.

42 Ibid., 503.



not synonymous. Many other usages of m's are not related to an

emotion at all. See, e.g., Isa 7:15-16; 33:15; Jer 31:37; Ezek

5:6; 20:13, 16, 24.

Although it is clear that m's means "to reject" and/or "to

despise" there is still a problem in Job 42:6 because the object

of the verb is not specified. In four verses in the OT the Qal of

this verb does not have its object expressed. All of these verses

are In Job-7.16, 34.33, 36.5 and 42.6.

A comparison of Job 9:21 with 7:16 confirms that in 7:16 Job

is despising and rejecting his life of suffering which he described

in the preceding verses, so that he wants no more of them. This

meaning is also clarified by the statement that follows m's, "not

forever would I live."

In 34:33 also, the context makes it clear that the object of m's

is what has just been described in the preceding verses, i.e., to

repent. So, Elihu is saying of Job "when you refuse/reject to

repent." Similarly with 36:5, the context indicates what the ob-

ject of m's should be, but this time from the verses that follow it,

not those that precede it.

(2) nhm. Before we can understand what the object of m's in

42: 6 may be, we need to consider the meaning of the verb nhm

in this verse. It is in the Nifal. Holladay's Lexicon (p. 234) gives

as its meanings, "to regret, have a change of heart, relent, turn

from a former attitude, and hence repent; to allow oneself to be

sorry; to comfort or console oneself." The meanings given in BDB

(pp. 636-37) are similar.

The Nifal form of nhm is used forty-eight times in the OT.

God is the subject of thirty-four of those occurrences;43 man is

the subject of the other fourteen. Sixteen of the verses in which

God is the subject speak of his relenting, and a change of action

or situation takes place as a result. Thirteen other verses speak

of God's feeling grief, sorrow, regret, pity, or compassion, and

again there is action to change the situation.

Eight of the verses in which man is the subject are concerning

his being comforted after bereavement and are not relevant to our

concern. In Judg 21:6 and 15 nhm indicates sorrow ("grieved


43Gen 6:6-7; Exod 32:12,14; Judg 2:18; 1 Sam 15:11, 29(2), 35; 2 Sam

24:16; 1 Chr 21:15; Ps 90:13; 106:45; 110:4; Isa 1:24; 57:6; Jer 4:28;

15:6; 18:8, 10; 20:16; 26:3, 13,19; 42:10; Ezek 24:14; Joel 2:13, 14; Amos

7:3, 6; Jonah 3:9, 10; 4:2; Zech 8:14.



for") over a situation such that the sorrow instigated action to

change the situation. Exod 13:17 indicates as its meaning, regret

that produced a change of mind which was followed by a change

of plans. The context of both Jer 8:6 and 31:19 indicate probable

sorrow or regret because of doing wickedness or straying from

the Lord, accompanied by the change needed to remedy the

situation, i.e., turning from wickedness or returning to the Lord.

Hence in both of these verses nhm is translated "repent."

So, in Job 42: 6 we would expect nhm to have a similar mean-

ing. This means that Job would feel sorrow or regret over some-

thing and that he would either turn from the cause or make

necessary changes.

From the above investigation of the usage of nhm we see that

it is the quality of feeling, be it compassion, grief, or regret, that

is either accompanied by change-generating action, or which insti-

gates it. It does not necessarily mean "repent." However, it may

do so. Whenever nhm is caused by sin or by turning or straying

from the Lord, it means "repent." The connotation of sub is more

particularly that of "returning" to the Lord, without any necessary

designation of emotion. On the other hand, nhm meaning "re-

pentance" implies sorrow and regret because of the sin together

with the action of leaving sin and resulted in turning to the Lord.

J. B. Curtis denies that nhm ever means "repent," maintaining

rather that it means "to be sorry." On the basis of Gen 18:27 and

Job 30:19 where Job says he has become like dust and ashes (but

note: because he says God has thrown him to the ground!), he

says that the expression "dust and ashes" has the idiomatic mean-

ing "man in his utter frailty before the divine."44 So, he translates

Job 42:6 as follows:


Therefore I feel loathing contempt and revulsion

[toward you, O God];

and I am sorry for frail man.45

Once again his conclusions are based on too little evidence and

reveal a strong subjective bias. An example of this is his statement

that "there can be little doubt that the unexpressed object of the


44 Curtis, "Job's Response," 500-501.

45 Ibid., 505.



loathing is God," with only brief and speculative suggestions as

support for his statement.46 His translations cannot be sustained,

therefore his argument that Job did not repent collapses.

Dust and ashes, separately or together, were often associated

with mourning or with humbling oneself in the OT. When Job's

friends came, they wept, tore their robes, and sprinkled dust on

their heads (2:12). Joshua and the elders of Israel tore their

clothes and put dust on their heads as they humbled themselves

before the Lord (Josh 7:6). See also Lam 2:10. After Job was

afflicted he sat among the ashes (2:8). The wearing of sackcloth

and ashes when mourning and humbling oneself is mentioned in

2 Sam 13:19; Esth 4:1, 3; Ps 102:9(10); Isa 58:5; 61:3; Jer

6:26; Dan 9:3; and Jonah 3: 6. The use of both dust and ashes

together is mentioned in Ezek 27: 30. So, strong support exists for

seeing this connotation in Job 42: 6 also and for translating ‘al

apar wa'eper literally, "upon [or with] dust and ashes."

So, I would translate Job 42:6 as follows:

Therefore I will have nothing more to do with (i.e., despise and reject)

   the sins of which you charged me which I committed by my speaking

   without understanding, and I repent upon dust and ashes.


From the examination of the text of Job's responses that I have

presented, I believe it is clear that Job did respond to Yahweh's

speeches as Yahweh desired. Job recognized that he had sinned

and he repented of that sin. This sin was not committed prior to

his suffering--it was not the cause of his suffering. Rather, his

sin was in the words he spoke, accusing and condemning God,

though in measure unconsciously, as he justified himself. He also

sinned in thus exalting himself as a "rival god."

Job's responses also reveal that he came to a deeper, more in-

timate knowledge of God and relationship with him. He reaffirmed

his confidence in the supreme power and sovereignty of God. He

accepted the fact that he could not understand God's works and

his ways.

Job's relationship with God was renewed by his repentance, and

enriched and strengthened by God's self-revelation to him. Now,

not only did Job know that God is sovereign, but also he knew, in-


46 Ibid., 504. See also n. 25 on this page.




timately, the God who is sovereign.  In that knowledge and that

relationship is the resolution of life’s problems.47


          14 Skyline Crescent

          Crescent Head

          N.S.W. 2440












47 I wish to thank Dr. R. B. Dillard, Dr. T. Longman III, and Dr. M.

Silva for their helpful suggestions, which have served to improve this paper.




This material is cited with gracious permission from:

            Westminster Theological Seminary

            2960 W. Church Rd.

            Glenside, PA  19038


Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu